ALG works to treat all parties involved in the stepparent adoption process with respect and to keep the child’s best interests at the heart of every decision made.
Courts are not often places we associate with beautiful moments, but some of the most wonderful events we have ever been part of in a courtroom is when we work with a stepparent to adopt a stepchild. It is certainly not mandatory for a stepparent to adopt their spouse’s biological child, and so this voluntary assumption of the obligations associated with the parent-child relationship by a stepparent is both touching and hugely impactful on the child’s life. If you are considering adopting your spouse’s biological child, the Adoption Law Group in Pasadena can work with you and your family to finalize the adoption as efficiently as possible. Below are a few of the steps you can expect to encounter in the California stepchild adoption process.
Filing of the Adoption Request
The first step in your stepparent adoption is to file an Adoption Request with the presiding California court. This is a form asking you to provide information about you, the child, your relation to the child, and any other information relating to parents and other guardians in the child’s life which will be relevant to the adoption determination.
Investigation by Social Services
After filing the Adoption Request, we will forward the request to the appropriate California social services agency which will conduct a brief investigation of the proposed adoption. This includes gathering relevant identifying documents (e.g. birth certificates) as well as participating in interviews with the social services representative, which will generally include an interview of the child as well. Most investigations are straightforward, and the state’s interest is in promoting adoption whenever it is in the best interests of the child. When a child is Native American, additional steps may apply under federal law before the adoption can be approved.
Termination of Non-custodial Parental Rights
If the other parent of the child is still living, then that parent’s parental rights will have to be terminated before you can adopt. Terminating a parent’s parental rights frees them from obligations such as providing child support, but also means they will not have certain rights such as court-ordered visitation.
Most non-custodial parents are willing to consent to the termination of their parental rights, which means they simply sign a form relinquishing their rights, but things can get more challenging when that parent is either difficult to locate or will not consent to termination of rights. In those cases, we will undertake all efforts to diligently locate that parent and/or work through the courts to have the judge terminate that parent’s rights.
Hearing Before the Judge
The final step is to have a hearing before the family court judge who will make a determination on whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child, which can include speaking with the child. Again, while complications can arise, the courts are there to support stepparent adoption whenever it is in the best interests of the child. Once that occurs, the judge will then finalize the adoption and will often even sit for a picture with the child and new adoptive parent.
Experienced Attorneys for Your California Stepparent Adoption
Adoption Law Group is a law firm in Southern California dedicated exclusively to adoption.
Our areas of practice include stepparent adoptions, fost-adopt finalizations, agency-assisted adoption finalizations, adult adoptions, guardianships and international readoptions. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.
Our base fee for all stepparent adoptions is $1,450. If the county social services agency is able to obtain the absent parent’s consent or if the absent parent is deceased, that’s all you’ll be charged. Additional actions to terminate the absent parent’s rights are in addition to the base fee and are charged on a flat-fee basis as follows:
ALG contractors obtain necessary consents from non-custodial parent: $400
Home Study by County or Private Agency: $700
Alleged Natural Father’s parental rights terminated by court action: $1450*
Presumed father or non-custodial mother’s rights terminated by court action: $2500*
An additional fee incurs in either of the termination cases if the whereabouts of the
absent parent is unknown and a due diligence search must be conducted: $75
Contested Termination Proceedings (Litigation): Hourly
In our experience, it is unlikely that the absent, non-custodial parent will litigate the adoption. If that occurs, we will consult with you regarding options and likely costs. A separate retainer agreement will be executed. Our billing rate for these cases is $225/hr
Federal law confers special rights and protections for children and parents with American Indian heritage. ICWA cases can be very complex and invoke a different procedure. If ICWA is applicable, we will consult with you regarding options and likely costs. A separate retainer agreement will be executed. Our billing rate for handling an ICWA issue is $250/hr.
In some cases a payment plan may be available, schedule a free consultation above to find a time to speak with us about it further.
*California law makes a distinction between alleged natural and presumed fathers. If you were married to the father or if he is named on the birth certificate or has lived with the child or provided significant support during the pregnancy, he may be a presumed father. Otherwise, he is probably an alleged father. We will discuss with you the specifics of your case during our intake interview and devise a strategy as to how to best approach the biological father.
What happens if the non-custodial parent won’t consent?
We have found that the old saying, “ you catch more flies with honey” is often very true in obtaining the non-custodial parent’s consent to the adoption. In fact, many stepparent adoptions end up being surprisingly straightforward. In those cases where consent cannot be obtained, parental rights most usually are terminated through a judicial finding of abandonment. In determining if abandonment is present, a court reviews a variety of factors, including timely payment of support, visitation and contact. Ultimately, the court must rule in the best interests of the child and views permanancy and stability as vital to a child’s best interests. The court is much more concerned with actual conduct of the non-custodial parent than with excuses or good intentions.
What if we are unable to locate the non-custodial parent?
It’s very common that clients have lost contact with the non-custodial parent long ago and in those cases diligent efforts must be made to locate and contact that party. Our office works to quickly satisfy the legal due diligence requirements for finding the parent and to obtain an order waiving notice or, if the party is found, to give proper notice of the proceedings.
How long does a typical Stepparent Adoption take?
Stepparent adoptions can take as little as six months from start to finish. If consents are not readily obtained and termination proceedings are required, it will take longer, but can typically be completed within one year from commencing the process.